Movie Review – Men In Black: International

Here come the Men in Black for a film they won’t let you remember.

⭐ ⭐ ½
Rhys Pascoe

Barry Sonnenfeld’s original Men in Black arrived like a bolt out of the blue back in 1997. Hailed as a sharp sci-fi film for both children and adults, the film exemplified Will Smith at the height of his powers and dominated multiplexes, pulling nearly $600 million globally. With two sequels in 2002 and 2012 failing to recapture the same magic, Sony Pictures has opted for a soft reboot that swaps the Smith and Tommy Lee Jones partnership for Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson, and replaces previous director Sonnenfield with F. Gary Gray (Straight Outta Compton, The Fate of the Furious).

This relaunch, dubbed Men in Black: International, sees Thompson play Molly, a young woman who has searched her whole life for the truth about the mysterious MIB. When she aces the entrance exam and is partnered with Agent H (Hemsworth), Molly (now known as Agent M) is reassigned to MIB’s London branch and tasked with a frivolous top-secret mission that sees the duo darting from jolly old England to Morocco, Italy and France.

The basic template of a Men in Black movie remains the same – to a point. You’ve got the newcomer acting as the audience POV character (Thompson), the more experienced agent showing them the ropes (Hemsworth), a powerful, pocket-sized MacGuffin that can propel the plot and a series of action set pieces populated with gooey, eccentric extra-terrestrials. So far, so good you might think.

Except, it’s not. Men in Black International moves in fits and starts, sparkling with energy in one scene before awkwardly shuffling through the next. Moment to moment, it’s very inconsistent, without a strong authorial voice or overarching narrative theme to fall back on when the characters, the plot or the jokes fall flat – which is on the regular.

Hemsworth and Thompson make for an entertaining pair (just as they did in Thor: Ragnarok), but the script is stuck in second gear, with gag after gag landing with the thump. You sense the filmmakers are striving for the same improvisational vibe that worked so well in the riotous Jump Street reboots, only it fails to translate in a PG-rated setting.

The plot is throwaway, the supporting cast is largely wasted (returning cast member Emma Thompson pops in for only a couple of scenes) and the twist, if you can call it that, is glaringly obvious from the outset. Honestly, if you don’t see the twist coming, chances are you’ve literally never seen a movie before in your entire life.

So is International any better or worse than Men in Black II or Men in Black III? Hard to say, as they’re all varying degrees of so-so, but at least we can all agree the first is an underappreciated classic. This newest instalment has some decent tricks up its sleeve, but nothing comes close to recapturing the insatiable chemistry and energy Smith and Jones brought to the original.

Men In Black: International is available in Australian cinemas from 13 June 2019

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures


Movie Review – Dumbo (2019)

Tim Burton’s steady decline continues in dramatic fashion.

⭐ ½
Zachary Cruz-Tan

Fair warning to whomever reads this: I’m not a happy camper, so lots of complaining is forthcoming. I did not like this movie. Not one bit. I don’t know if it’s because I hold fond memories of the original Dumbo (1941), or because every single second of this new live-action Dumbo (2019) is a contrived, boring, predictable mess, from the opening scene of a CGI train chugging across the southern U.S. to the inevitable happy ending where everything is bright and sunny in Disneyland.

This new Dumbo takes place in 1919, where a travelling carnival led by Max Medici (Danny DeVito) is delighted to welcome a newborn elephant into its troupe. But wait, how can this be? His ears – they’re huge and disgusting! The crowds laugh and hurl peanuts at him. The only people who care for him are Milly and Joe (a perpetually sullen Nico Parker, and Finley Hobbins). They are the children of Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell), who was once the carnival’s star attraction before the Great War removed one of his arms.

Milly? Joe? Holt? Who the heck are these people? – you ask. Fair question. The original Dumbo was all about Dumbo and his mouse friend Timothy. The humans were ornamental figures who barely spoke. This remake envisions a story where the humans are front and centre, and Dumbo is a kind of supporting superstar. Naturally, the entire cast is brand new. This might’ve worked if Ehren Kruger, responsible for the screenplay, had devised a story that was as imaginative and challenging as the original. Alas, it’s another dusty tale of the humble family business taken over by the ruthless tycoon.

The tycoon this time is Vandevere, played by Michael Keaton in one of Keaton’s most bewildering and dangerously absurd performances. Vandevere, who runs an impossibly modern circus complex, hears of the infamous flying pachyderm and offers to merge Max’s troupe with his own. Max has obviously never seen a movie in his life so can’t possibly imagine that Vandevere means to swindle him. Meanwhile, you might’ve realised how little of Dumbo the Elephant I am mentioning. That is because Dumbo doesn’t do anything worth mentioning, except fall from great heights before swooping up at the last second.

Couldn’t Kruger have thought of anything more original for these characters to do? Couldn’t the director, Tim Burton, have allowed them to behave convincingly, to make decisions that surprise and enchant? Everyone is a marionette, hoisted by strings, controlled by the devices of the plot, yanked this way and that. Everything they do is a mechanical step toward a robotic conclusion. If you don’t think that’s sad, just remember how the best Disney movies continue to move us in ways we thought we had forgotten. Next to them, Dumbo is, for lack of a more sophisticated description, dumb.

Dumbo is available in Australian cinemas from March 28

Image courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Movie Review – The Darkest Minds

Another post-apocalyptic film about a group of teenagers trying to save the world… yawn.

⭐ ⭐
Elle Cahill

The Darkest Minds offers up yet another adaptation of a post-apocalyptic tween book series. This time a virus has wiped out most of the children in the world, leaving those who survive with super powers. With abilities that range from high intelligence, to telekinesis and telepathy, the children with the greatest powers are hunted down as it’s believed they pose a danger to society. After escaping from a compound, telepathic Ruby (Amandla Stenberg) bands together with a bunch of other kids to find sanctuary from those who hunt them.

Sound familiar? Well, that’s because it is. Following a similar narrative to the Divergent series, The Maze Runner franchise and The 5th Wave, The Darkest Minds is simply another addition to the pile of young adult franchises flooding into cinemas. At least this time around the casting seems to be right, with actors who actually look the age of the children they’re playing.

Stenberg shines bright in the lead role. She brings a certain vulnerability that makes you willing to follow her through the course of the film. Newcomer Harris Dickinson brings an interesting screen presence as Ruby’s love interest, displaying sensitivity and a roughness all at once. Dickinson and Stenberg’s chemistry is palpable, and he’s definitely one to watch as he continues with his career. Skylan Brooks, whose character Chub is used purely for comic relief, ends up being the character with the most heart and becomes the one to root for.

Despite failing to offer anything new, The Darkest Minds isn’t the worst of its kind. Although their potentially is never fully tapped into, the cast bring a certain grace and maturity to the film that ensure it’s not entirely forgettable.

The Darkest Minds is available in Australian cinemas from August 16 

Image courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

Movie Review – Solo: A Star Wars Story

Solo: A Star Wars Story is great fun, but one must ask the question: why was it ever made?

⭐ ⭐ ½
Zachary Cruz-Tan

Han Solo, the hero of Solo: A Star Wars Story, has been a mythic figure since 1977. He’s a charming, roguish hunk who plays by his own rules, scoffs at authority and occasionally obeys the commands of his heart. He’s also a character many students of Star Wars love dearly. But I suspect, after watching this new Star Wars adventure, many of those students will want to protest.

This is first and foremost a movie designed for fans of the beloved franchise. It doesn’t have the parts to satisfy the indifferent, except of course in scenes where spaceships swoop around maelstroms and blasters are fired left, right and centre. It’s a story that’s rooted in the history of the galaxy far, far away, and so every little detail matters. Or at least it should.

Solo tells the story of Han (Alden Ehrenreich), from his tortured existence on a tyrannical planet and blossoming courtship with fellow slave Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), to his early success as a professional smuggler and ace pilot of the Millennium Falcon. It also answers such questions as the birth of his name, how he founded his eternal bromance with Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), and how he completed the famed ‘Kessel Run’ in 12 parsecs. I don’t recall ever asking these questions, or indeed wanting them shown to me in such unimaginative plainness, but there you have it. The myth has been stripped away from the man.

Doesn’t matter. Solo: A Star Wars Story is decent, honest fun. It doesn’t seem to have a care in the world, which is what any successful Star Wars movie should strive for. The plot is more basic than a vanilla sponge cake. The characters are scribbled in from bits and pieces of characters past. Its humour is nothing but second-hand gags. There is not a moment when you fear for anyone’s safety. There are weird planets, obligatory lounge acts and endless battles. It’s a movie programmed to keep you smiling from start to finish.

The battles, of course, are very well filmed and seem to occupy much of the movie’s runtime. Han, desperate to pilot a ship that will allow him to rescue his beloved from the clutches of bondage, teams up with a thief called Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), who himself is working for criminal mastermind Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany).

Their quest leads them to Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), an expert smuggler whose co-pilot is L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), a radical droid that walks and talks with the sass for change. She crusades for droid equality, an idea that makes sense today but otherwise rubbed me the wrong way completely. No-one goes to a Star Wars movie for lessons in social politics. At least I don’t.

But perhaps I’m speaking too much like a Star Wars fanatic and not giving enough weight to the positives? Possibly. However, I see no other way to discuss a Star Wars movie, since I’ve spent most of my life with them. They feed into each other and can no longer be judged independently.

This one doesn’t measure up to its predecessors in terms of stakes and depth – and it might upset diehard Han Solo followers who feel they’ve been duped by midichlorians again – but in the hands of Ron Howard it just scrapes through. Am I itching to see it again? I’m afraid not. Not even a little.

Solo: A Star Wars Story is available in Australian cinemas from May 24

Image courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Movie Review – Annihilation

Natalie Portman. Scary Creatures. A dome shaped border that looks like a rainbow sheet of film. Welcome to the world of Annihilation by Alex Garland.

⭐ ⭐ ½
Josip Knezevic

Annihilation is an unusually neutral experience. It’s one of those films that doesn’t quite reach greatness, but it’s also not terrible. It just leaves you feeling like, um… it was OK

That isn’t to say it isn’t an enjoyable film – Annihilation does some awesome and innovative stuff. But there’s a whole lot of bullshit going on that brings it down to be just another sub-par science fiction flick.

Everyone has been raving about this film, claiming that it “completely challenges you” and is “really thoughtful and intellectual” and yes, it’s smart here and there, but nowhere near the level it’s being praised to be at.

The film has a trend of inconsistency – one that not only shadows the plot, but also, it’s visual aesthetic. The world within the dome can go from a burst of beautiful colours, to a shitty blend of dullness the next. While this may have been an intentional narrative decision, it nevertheless retracts from the entire experience. Wouldn’t it have made just as much sense to keep this world spectacularly designed throughout? It just misses the opportunity to be a fantastic film on a visual scale.

The same path of thinking can be said for the lead performances. Annihilation features three incredible actors, with Natalie Portman, Oscar Isaac and Jennifer Jason Leigh, but for the most part, each of their performances come across as stale and completely reserved . It does make some sense for Isaac’s character to be this way, but it doesn’t work well for Jennifer Jason Leigh at all. She delivers her lines in a neutral way and it doesn’t even feel like she’s fully there most of the time. Nothing she says seems to carry any motivation in any respect.

The actors can’t take the full blame, the fault ultimately lies with writer/director Alex Garland. Garland has the ability to write some fantastic ideas one second, then completely throws this away the next with some horrendous dialogue.

So overall, I would recommend seeing Annihilation, but it’s a suggestion that comes with no real sense of urgency. This is a very missable film, but if you do end up seeing it on Netflix, there are some aspects to enjoy. Just don’t be surprised if you come away from it and find yourself constantly responding to others with, um… it was OK.

Annihilation is available on Netflix in Australia 

Image courtesy of Peter Mountain, Paramount Pictures & Netflix, Source: IMDb 

Movie Review – Maze Runner: The Death Cure

Maze Runner: The Death Cure is a fitting resolution to a tiresome and ultimately forgettable franchise.

Josip Knezevic

There’s no point holding back: I abhorred the Maze Runner: The Death Cure from the moment it started. Not even the luscious Vmax furniture or the ample amounts of legroom were able to make the experience enjoyable. I was expecting – or at least hoping – for a film that didn’t repeat everything we’ve already seen in the previous films… how very wrong I was.

Maze Runner: The Death Cure returns to its apocalyptic world that’s overrun with the damned and infected or ‘cranks’. Our heroes Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) and Minho (Ki Hong Lee) are continuing their endless journey to bring down the powerful World in Catastrophe: Killzone Experiment Department, appropriately abbreviated as WCKD. Time is running out for Thomas to find a way to save his friends as infections spread and threaten everyone. Will he make it in time? Who will die in the process? Is there any chance I’m going to care?

It’s disheartening to see a studio waste a budget of more than $80 million on a film filled with plot holes and conveniences. There’s so many films out there that have been made for far less and have managed to produce something so much better, but alas, I digress.

The biggest problem with the third and final Maze Runner is its incredibly long run time; at 2 hours and 22 minutes, it’s arduous viewing. Why director Wes Ball did not cut scenes that easily could have been omitted without impacting the overall narrative is baffling to me. The opening scenes, for starters, hold no implications on the rest of the story, and merely draw out the film for the sake of drawing it out. Meanwhile, several developments in the final act drag out the climax to frustrating lengths.

Unless you’re a fan of the franchise and somehow enjoyed the other instalments, I cannot recommend you go and see this film.

Maze Runner: The Death Cure is available in Australian cinemas from January 25 

Image courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

Movie Review – The Shape of Water

After forays into blockbuster anime (Pacific Rim) and gothic horror (Crimson Peak), Guillermo del Toro returns to his roots for a genre-bending monster mash.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Rhys Graeme-Drury

The Shape of Water sees Mexican auteur Guillermo del Toro deliver a dark fantasy fairytale, a suspenseful conspiracy thriller, a fish-out-of-water comedy (literally) and an enchanting love story all wrapped up in one beautiful package. It’s Amelie meets Creature From The Black Lagoon meets The Little Mermaid, and it’s easily del Toro’s best English language film to date.

Set in Baltimore during the Cold War, The Shape of Water centres around Elisa (Sally Hawkins), a mute janitor, and her relationship with a mysterious amphibian creature (Doug Jones) being held in the secret military research facility where she works. Through their limited ability to communicate, the odd couple strike up an unlikely romance that’s bound by their shared feeling of loneliness and incompleteness.

However, their secret romance soon hits a snag when Michael Shannon’s ruthless military colonel plans to destroy the creature, and so the pair must devise an escape plan with the help of Elisa’s neighbour (Richard Jenkins) and co-worker (Octavia Spencer).

Meticulous in its craftsmanship, every frame, facet and fabric in The Shape of Water is dripping with sumptuous detail, from the intricate sets and rich colours, to the grotesque design of the creature himself, complete with gills, frills, fangs and googly eyes that swivel.

It’s a masterful period creature feature that is overflowing with affection for its setting, its influences and its themes. Del Toro’s screenplay, which was co-written by Vanessa Taylor, plumbs the depths of prejudice, politics and science, as well as sexuality. The cherry on top is Alexandre Desplat’s dreamy and bewitching score, which sounds as though you’re sipping on a latte in an underwater Parisian café.

Hawkins delivers a career-best performance as Elisa, a timid spinster who lives above a movie theatre. Whether she’s dancing with her mop and bucket or staging a dramatic breakout, Hawkins brings compassion and ferocity in equal measure. Similarly, Jones brings majestic physicality as the creature, buried underneath layers of prosthetics but still emoting like the best of them.

The Shape of Water is currently being showered with awards, and rightly so; in addition to being visually stunning, it’s a delicate and absorbing fable that is a testament to the power of love and compassion. Populated with captivating performances and delicious design, it’s bound to go over swimmingly with fans of del Toro and genre work alike.

The Shape of Water is available in Australian cinemas from January 18 

Image courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

Movie Review – Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Three HOF writers clash lightsabers over the newest entry in the Star Wars franchise, but what’s the final verdict? Read on to find out!

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Rhys Graeme-Drury

The continuing adventures of Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), Poe (Oscar Isaac) and co, Star Wars: The Last Jedi sees director Rian Johnson (Looper) take hold of the reins and steer the series into stranger, bolder territory than ever before. Whilst Rey is furthering her training under the tutelage of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Finn joins forces with Poe and new character Rose (Kelly-Marie Tran) in a desperate race against time to save the Resistance from certain defeat.

Channelling influences that range from Akira Kurosawa to manga and anime, Johnson subverts expectation at every turn in The Last Jedi, undercutting theory and speculation to challenge audiences. Undoubtedly the strongest aspect of his film is the evolving dynamic between Rey and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver); emotional, unexpected and at times surreal, Johnson reshapes our understanding of the universe to deepen the connection between his two leads. Hamill also rises to the occasion, delivering his best ever performance as Luke Skywalker. Poe and General Leia (the late Carrie Fisher) are also afforded a satisfying and touching storyline that farewells the latter with power and grace.

Where The Force Awakens was expected, The Last Jedi is daring; not everything sticks (some of the humour falls flat and Boyega’s arc is rushed and surprisingly pointless), but on the whole this is a gargantuan effort that thrills and shocks in equal measure.

⭐ ⭐ ½
Josip Knezevic

While others might think it daring and bold, it seems to me that Disney has tried to please as many people as possible with this latest entry. Much like the oversaturated burst of nostalgia that was Star Wars: The Force AwakensThe Last Jedi has fallen prey to following conventional tropes, making it a forgettable addition to the series – in my opinion.

I hold Star Wars in such high regard because, well – it’s Star Wars. The Last Jedi’s stock-standard, crowd-pleasing formula is quite simply an insult to the entire franchise. The Empire Strikes Back is arguably the best of the original trilogy because it’s shocking and fierce, with giant discoveries, twists and betrayals. The Last Jedi has none of that, and it’s a shame because Johnson has proven he has the ability to do all those things. It’s tough to explain without revealing spoilers, but essentially, if you’ve seen the original trilogy, you’ll know what’s going to happen here.

Don’t get me wrong, if same old is what you want, you’ll enjoy The Last Jedi, but if you’re wanting more, I’d suggest you lower your expectations.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Zachary Cruz-Tan

Ultimately, the necessity of these new Star Wars films is called into question. I enjoyed The Force Awakens. Whether it regurgitated the original trilogy didn’t matter to me, and it doesn’t matter to me now. The Force Awakens offered up new and exciting heroes, and comforted the franchise with tangible practical effects. It looked and felt like Star Wars. The Last Jedi, however, is a little shaky in that department.

Jokes and gags are delivered out of character. Little things like dusting off a shoulder to prove invincibility seems like a gesture that belongs in All Eyez on Me instead of the Star Wars universe. Tiny alien birds try too hard to be cute. And Johnson makes the fatal flaw of relying on computer graphics to make his movie happen; scenes on an extravagant casino island have the look and feel of the Prequels – never a good sign.

Despite these issues, I believe The Last Jedi is still an utterly worthy addition to the saga. I’m just praying Episode IX brings us to a place we’ve truly never been. All us patient Star Wars fans deserve at least that much.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is available in Australian cinemas from December 14

Image courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Movie Review – Coco

Pixar’s Coco may not have the majesty of some of its greats, but it still gets the job done with delightful aplomb.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Zachary Cruz-Tan

I suspect the writers of Coco, Disney/Pixar’s newest family film, started their screenplay with the end. They had the perfect idea for an emotional clincher and simply needed to fill in the first two acts to qualify as a feature. The result is a charming little story about family that’s half magical wonder, half silly adventure, and the two don’t always mesh.

Take the premise, for example. Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) is an adorable little boy in Mexico who is cursed to love music in a family that has primed him to become a shoemaker, kinda like Merida wanting to be a warrior instead of a betrothed sovereign, or Moana wanting to be an explorer instead of a tribeswoman. Disney enjoys its formulas.

During the Day of the Dead festivities, Miguel is whimsically transported to the realm of the deceased, which, according to Coco, looks like floating favelas, only more colourful, and operates in a manner not unlike the afterlife in Beetlejuice (1988). We learn that our ancestors don’t really die; they move on to this floating world and return to the land of the living as skeletal spectres every year to commune and retrieve our offerings. Doesn’t this seem like the ideal platform on which to develop a touching story about our past relatives coming to see us, lamenting death and missed opportunities, maybe asking for forgiveness or marvelling at how well their descendants turned out? No such luck. Coco chooses the lighter approach, and cobbles together a ragtag coming-of-age adventure in which Miguel has to dash through the afterlife to find his musical idol and get him to send him back to our dimension before he, too, turns into a quivering mass of bones.

Miguel doesn’t seem astonished to meet his forebears any more than his forebears seem pleased to meet their great-great-great-grandson. I can only imagine the amount of questions I’d have for my great-grandma if I got to meet her sentient skeleton. Coco doesn’t pause long enough for moments like this. It has a winner of a crescendo to get to and wastes little time getting there.

I will not bother you with the details of the plot and what this crescendo actually involves. Let’s just say Pixar, whether delivering a masterpiece or humdrum mediocrity, always manages to turn a standard idea into a champion. Adventure aside, I liked Miguel. He’s plucky and cute, and Gonzalez voices him with great urgency. The afterlife, for all its clamour, turns what would have been a boring re-tread of bygone plots into a world of wonder and excitement. It is visually alive, with intricate details decorating every corner of the frame. I liked the fact that the core story doesn’t really hinge on Miguel, and that Coco manages to dispatch its message cleanly and powerfully. It hit me right in the heart, even if I saw the shot coming a mile away.

I only wish the writers, Adrian Molina and Matthew Aldrich, had been bolder, and possibly a bit smarter. I cannot fault the cast or the film’s design, but had the writers ventured deeper into the possibilities of contacting the dead Coco might have been in the league of Inside Out. As it is, it’s more on the same level as Big Hero 6, which, all things considered, is still mighty fine company.

Coco is available in Australian cinemas from Boxing Day 

Image courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Movie Review – Flatliners

No pulse detected on this 90s sci-fi thriller remake.

⭐ ⭐ ½     
Elle Cahill 

Another day, another remake; Flatliners sees Joel Schumacher‘s largely forgotten 1990 film of the same name return to cinemas, begging the question why any studio would feel the need to revive this film. Presumably, Sony hoped today’s audiences would be more receptive to the daring concept, but the original’s failings were never conceptual. Where both films fall down is in execution.

Medical student Courtney (Ellen Page) leads an experiment to visit the afterlife that involves stopping the heart of a subject then reviving them before they hit the four-minute mark. Following the success of her first experiment, each of her fellow students go on to experience the afterlife, only to learn death is something that shouldn’t be meddled with…

On paper, it’s got all the makings for a hit. In the director’s chair is Niels Arden Oplev; most well-known for the Swedish Millennium trilogy (Girl With The Dragon Tattoo), he’s proven his abilities to handle sensitive themes before. His cast, much like the original, is filled with “hot right now” stars including Page (Inception), Diego Luna (Rogue One) and Nina Dobrev (The Vampire Diaries) who have all dared to push the realms of our existence before.

It’s got everything going for it, but it just doesn’t connect. Maybe it’s the overuse of archetypal characters; there’s nothing here we haven’t seen before, and the cast struggle to get any sort of emotional weight out of the limited material on offer. Or it could be that the afterlife purgatory theme throughout is awfully contrived, with each character having to face some sort of moral dilemma that’s filled with plot holes and inconsistencies.

Page isn’t her usual sassy, witty self that we’ve come to know and love, and her supporting cast don’t offer much either. James Norton‘s turn as womanising Jamie is overplayed as is Kiersey Clemons as the highly-strung Sophia in constant contact with her overbearing mother.

For a film marketing itself as a thriller, all it really offers is some jump scares and cheap thrills. My only hope is that when they remake this in another 17 years’ time, they’ll learn from the two previous films and actually make something of this premise.

Flatliners is available in Australian cinemas from September 28

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures